Sunday, December 18, 2005

Double treat: Chomsky interview

I couldn't have asked for a better gift this feative season. First Arundhati, and now Chomsky. Recently voted the world's top public intellectual (buy the latest issue of Tehelka for an in-depth analysis of what makes one) by Prospect magazine, Chomsky sat down with Guardian's Emma Brockes to speak on a host of issues: activism, journalistic ethics, childhood experiences, Bosnia, capitalism. Broadly he maps out in the course of an hour how his whole life has conspired to bring him to do what he's best known for today: speaking up against injustice (though he has a day job as Professor of linguistics). By turns quirky and charming, "vibrating with anger" one moment and smiling the next, Chomsky has a knack for provocativeness. Read this piece for a brief primer on some pertinent issues of our times. (Oct 31 post)
Dec 18 update:
Have been waiting all of last week to include bits from Shelley Walia's excellent piece on him in last Sunday's (Dec 11) Hindu Sunday Magazine. But since it reads nicely with the Guardian article, I am updating this post.
On creativity:
The essence of creativity is innate in all humans, which enables them to think and introspect. Language being inherently a creative entity, its original usage gives one a sense of freedom. Inequality and suffering in the world, therefore, have to be taken into consideration to finally eliminate division. A Marxist standpoint with class as the central tenet thus forms the essence of anarchist theory and practice. Chomsky adds to it the idea of the human linguistic abilities that have the power to resist any social oppression or straitjacketing.
This passage is eerily silimar to the following excerpt from Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture:
I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.
On his anarchist philosophy versus an "elite liberalism":
Liberalism of the American New-Dealish brand of cut throat competition and corporate authoritarianism in the industrial sector is what the elite intellectuals take upon themselves to support, whereas the socialist anarchist stands polemically opposed to such hierarchical fascism so integral to corporate thinking which has full control of the policies of the government and is always opposed to trade unionism.
Making the anarchist philosophy work:
Each individual, according to Chomsky, has the responsibility and the creative acumen to take control of his/her society. Therefore, the idea is not to overthrow governments but to take over the corporates so that they begin to work more in favour of the people. Anarchism, in favour of the people, involves the recognition of plurality and diversity, and difference of interests, ideas and opinions. This is the Cartesian underpinning to Chomsky's thought, an impulse towards the non-systematic and highly relative and flexible character of everything in society from organisations to individuals. He takes governance inherently as a communal activity not to be left simply in the hands of the specialists who focus too narrowly on their respective areas of interest, ignoring the larger well being of society. For instance, undesirable jobs like cleaning the sewerage system, or repairing the electrical wires during a snowstorm should necessarily be mechanised, and if there still exist more undesirable jobs, the community should share them. Another solution that Chomsky suggests is that people who do unpleasant jobs should be paid the highest, not the lowest.

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